Connecticut is a small state, but even a small state is a big place. When the news came through on Friday morning that there had been a school shooting in Connecticut, the first thought that flashed through my mind was "It won't be Newtown. It'll be somewhere else."
It wouldn't be Newtown because, in the way of the magical thinking so tempting in the face of tragedy, I have loved the town since I was a child. It had to be somewhere else. The murder of children must surely happen in an ugly place among disaffected people, amid the pathologies of deracinated modern life.
It could not be Newtown, with its great oaks and maples, narrow roads winding into low hills, and old stone walls that have marked the boundaries of farms and fields since before the town was founded in 1705.
Mass murder is a monstrous thing, anywhere. It is impossibly disconsonant with a lovely New England town of tranquil ponds, enormous playing fields and a newspaper named, with the charm of the telegraph age, the Newtown Bee.
For my whole life, Newtown has been a haven. When I was a child, I remember how my dad's car would crunch on the gravel at his brother and sister-in-law's pretty white house with its flanking of orange daylilies. There'd be an explosion of cousins from the front door (only two, actually, but they were boys, and to an only girl they hit like a wall of sound) and I'd be scooped by my Auntie Lynda and Uncle Bob. She was so warm and attentive, bossy in a way I loved, always wanting to hear what was happening in my life. He smoked a pipe back then, and the nice brown toasty smell always hung about him in a way that I found infinitely reassuring.
Their home was a beacon of steadiness in my nomadic childhood; after hours in the car, I'd sing out when I saw the big white flagpole that meant we'd arrived in Newtown. It would only be another five minutes to my aunt and uncle's house.
In the reporting in the first hours after the massacre, I heard Newtown described as a "suburban community." That's not right. It conveys the wrong idea. Danbury may not be far away, true, and the train does carry commuters to and from New York. But the adjective "suburban" connotes sprawl, asphalt, bad architecture and planned communities that sprang from the mind of a developer. Newtown is not like that. It's full of old houses, old fields; there, you breathe country air.
When I was 8 or 9, I remember my aunt taking me to Newtown's nicest children's clothing store, a white clapboard ye olde shop of the sort that abound in New England. When I was 21, Newtown was my base for a few weeks after graduation. When I was 25, my fianc?e joined me and my aunt and uncle and cousins for Christmas. Thanksgivings and summer visits filled the intervening years. All our children have rambled along Newtown's roads (some of them still bumpy and unpaved) and through the fields that will now forever be linked with unutterable heartbreak.
A town is not just an accretion of buildings, after all. In some mystical way, it is also the sum of the human love, ambition and tragedy that takes place in its precincts. When something so ghastly has happened, as what happened on Friday, it is probably not possible to expunge. You can rewrite history, but you cannot change it.
My aunt and uncle are retired now, and they sold their house in Newtown this year. They had both spent their careers in the Fairfield County public schools. She would eventually become a principal; he taught high school English. I can't bear to ask them whom they knew at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@ washingtonexaminer.com.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at email@example.com.